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Right-Size the Service Desk for Small Enterprise

Turn your help desk into a customer-centric service desk.

The service desk is a major function within IT. Small enterprises with constrained resources need to look at designing a service desk that enables consistency in supporting the business and finds the right balance of documentation.

Determining the right level of documentation to provide backup and getting the right level of data for good reporting may seem like a waste of time when the team is small, but this is key to knowing when to invest in more people, upgraded technology, and whether your efforts to improve service are successful.

Our Advice

Critical Insight

It’s easy to lose sight of the client experience when working as a small team supporting a variety of end users. Changing from a help desk to a service desk requires a focus on what it means to be a customer centric service desk and a change to the way the technicians think about providing support.

  • Make the best use of the team. Clearly define roles and responsibilities and monitor those wearing multiple hats to make sure they don’t burn out.
  • Build cross training and documentation into your culture to preserve service levels while giving team members time off to recharge.
  • Don’t discount the benefit of good tools. As volume increases, so does the likelihood of issues and requests getting missed. Look for tools that will help to keep a customer focus.

Impact and Result

  • Improved workload distribution for technicians and enable prioritization based on work type, urgency, and impact.
  • Improved communications methods and messaging will help the technicians to set expectations appropriately and reduce friction between each other and their supported end users.
  • Best practices and use of industry standard tools will reduce administrative overhead while improving workload management.

Right-Size the Service Desk for Small Enterprise Research & Tools

1. Right-Size the Service Desk for Small Enterprise Storyboard – A step-by-step guide to help you identify and prioritize initiatives to become more customer centric.

This blueprint provides a framework to quickly identify a plan for service desk improvements. It also provides references to build out additional skills and functionality as a continual improvement initiative.

2. Maturity Assessment – An assessment to determine baseline maturity.

The maturity assessment will provide a baseline and identify areas of focus based on level of current and target maturity.

3. Standard Operating Procedure – A template to build out a clear, concise SOP right-sized for a small enterprise.

The SOP provides an excellent guide to quickly inform new team members or contractors of your support approach.

4. Categorization Scheme – A template to build out an effective categorization scheme.

The categorization scheme template provides examples of asset-based categories, resolution codes and status.

5. Improvement Plan – A template to present the improvement plan to stakeholders.

This template provides a starting point for building your communications on planned improvements.

Right-Size the Service Desk for Small Enterprise

Turn your help desk into a customer-centric service desk.

Analyst Perspective

Small enterprises have many of the same issues as large ones, but with far fewer resources. Focus on the most important aspects to improve customer service.

The service desk is a major function within IT. Small enterprises with constrained resources need to look at designing a service desk that enables consistency in supporting the business and finds the right balance of documentation.

Evaluate documentation to ensure there is always redundancy built in to cover absences. Determining coverage will be an important factor, especially if vendors will be brought into the organization to assist during shortages. They will not have the same level of knowledge as teammates and may have different requirements for documentation.

It is important to be customer centric, thinking about how services are delivered and communicated with a focus on providing self-serve at the appropriate level for your users and determining what information the business needs for expectation-setting and service level agreements, as well as communications on incidents and changes.

And finally, don’t discount the value of good reporting. There are many reasons to document issues besides just knowing the volume of workload and may become more important as the organization evolves or grows. Stakeholder reporting, regulatory reporting, trend spotting, and staff increases are all good reasons to ensure minimum documentation standards are defined and in use.

Photo of Sandi Conrad, Principal Research Director, Info-Tech Research Group. Sandi Conrad
Principal Research Director
Info-Tech Research Group

Table of Contents

Title Page Title Page
Blueprint benefits 6 Incident management 25
Start / Stop / Continue exercise 10 Prioritization scheme 27
Complete a maturity assessment 11 Define SLAs 29
Select an ITSM tool 13 Communications 30
Define roles & responsibilities 15 Reporting 32
Queue management 17 What can you do to improve? 33
Ticket handling best practices 18 Staffing 34
Customer satisfaction surveys 19 Knowledge base & self-serve 35
Categorization 20 Customer service 36
Separate ticket types 22 Ticket analysis 37
Service requests 23 Problem management 38
Roadmap 39

Insight summary

Help desk to service desk

It’s easy to lose sight of the client experience when working as a small team supporting a variety of end users. Changing from a help desk to a service desk requires a focus on what it means to be a customer-centric service desk and a change to the way the technicians think about providing support.

Make the best use of the team

  • Clearly define primary roles and responsibilities, and identify when and where escalations should occur.
  • Divide the work in a way that makes the most sense based on intake patterns and categories of incidents or service requests.
  • Recognize who is wearing multiple hats, and monitor to make sure they don’t burn out or struggle to keep up.
  • Determine the most appropriate areas to outsource based on work type and skills required.

Build cross-training into your culture

  • Primary role holders need time off and need to know the day-to-day work won’t be waiting for them when they come back.
  • The knowledge base is your first line of defense to make sure incidents don’t have to wait for resolution and to avoid having technicians remote in on their day off.
  • When volumes spike for incidents and service requests, everyone needs to be prepared to pitch in. Train the team to recognize and step up to the call to action.

Don’t discount the benefit of good tools

  • When volume increases, so does the likelihood of missing issues and requests.
  • Designate a single solution to manage the workload, so there is one place to go for work orders, incident reporting, asset data, and more.
  • Set up self-serve for users so they have access to how-to articles and can check the status of tickets themselves.
  • Create a service catalog to make it easy for them to request the most frequent items easily.

Blueprint deliverables

Each step of this blueprint is accompanied by supporting deliverables to help you accomplish your goals:

Standard Operating Procedures

Sample of the Standard Operating Procedures deliverable.

Maturity Assessment

Sample of the Maturity Assessment deliverable.

Categorization scheme

Sample of the Categorization scheme deliverable.

Improvement Initiative

Sample of the Improvement Initiative deliverable.
Create a standard operating procedure to ensure the support team has a consistent understanding of how they need to engage with the business.

Blueprint benefits

IT benefits

  • Improve workload distribution for technicians and enable prioritization based on work type, urgency, and impact.
  • Improved communications methods and messaging will help the technicians set expectations appropriately and reduce friction between each other and their supported end users.
  • Best practices and use of industry-standard tools will reduce administrative overhead while improving workload management.

Business benefits

  • IT taking a customer-centric approach will improve access to support and reduce interruptions to the way they do business.
  • Expectation setting and improved communications will allow the business to better plan their work around new requests and will have a better understanding of service level agreements.

Guided Implementation

A Guided Implementation (GI) is a series of calls with an Info-Tech analyst to help implement our best practices in your organization.

A typical GI is six to ten calls over the course of three to four months.

The current state discussion will determine the path.

What does a typical GI on this topic look like?

Current State & Vision

Best Practices

Service Requests & Incidents


Next Steps & Roadmap

Call #1: Discuss current state & create a vision

Call #2: Document roles & responsibilities

Call #3:Review and define best practices for ticket handling Call #4: Review categorization

Call #5: Discuss service requests & self-serve

Call #6: Assess incident management processes
Call #7: Assess and document reporting and metrics

Call #8: Discuss communications methods

Call #9: Review next steps

Call #10: Build roadmap for updates

For a workshop on this topic, see the blueprint Standardize the Service Desk

Executive Brief Case Study

Southwest CARE Center
Logo for Southwest Care.

Service Desk Project

After relying on a managed service provider (MSP) for a number of years, the business hired Kevin to repatriate IT. As part of that mandate, his first strategic initiative was to build a service desk. SCC engaged Info-Tech Research Group to select and build a structure; assign roles and responsibilities; implement incident management, request fulfilment, and knowledge management processes; and integrate a recently purchased ITSM tool.

Over the course of a four-day onsite engagement, SCC’s IT team worked with two Info-Tech analysts to create and document workflows, establish ticket handling guidelines, and review their technological requirements.


The team developed a service desk standard operating procedure and an implementation roadmap with clear service level agreements.

Southwest CARE Center (SCC) is a leading specialty healthcare provider in New Mexico. They offer a variety of high-quality services with a focus on compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

“Info-Tech helped me to successfully rebrand from an MSP help desk to an IT service desk. Sandi and Michel provided me with a customized service desk framework and SOP that quickly built trust within the organization. By not having to tweak and recalibrate my service desk processes through trial and error, I was able to save a year’s worth of work, resulting in cost savings of $30,000 to $40,000.” (Kevin Vigil, Director of Information Technology, Southwest CARE Center)

The service desk is the cornerstone for customer satisfaction

Bar charts comparing 'Dissatisfied' vs 'Satisfied End Users' in both 'Service Desk Effectiveness' and 'Timeliness'.
N=63, small enterprise organizations from the End-User Satisfaction Diagnostic, at December 2021
Dissatisfied was classified as those organizations with an average score less than 7.
Satisfied was classified as those organizations with an average score greater or equal to 8.
  • End users who were satisfied with service desk effectiveness rated all other IT processes 36% higher than dissatisfied end users.
  • End users who were satisfied with service desk timeliness rated all other IT processes 34% higher than dissatisfied end-users.

Improve the service desk with a Start, Stop, Continue assessment

Use this exercise as an opportunity to discuss what’s working and what isn’t with your current help desk. Use this to define your goals for the improvement project, with a plan to return to the results and rerun the exercise on a regular basis.


  • What service desk processes are counterproductive?
  • What service blockers exist that consistently undermine good results?
  • Are end-user relationships with individual team members negatively impacting satisfaction?
  • Make notes on initial ideas for improvement.


  • What service process improvements could be implemented immediately?
  • What technical qualifications do individual staff members need to improve?
  • What opportunities exist to improve service desk communications with end users?
  • How can escalation and triage be more efficient?


  • What aspects of your current service desk are positive?
  • What processes are efficient and can be emulated elsewhere?
  • Where can you identify high levels of end-user satisfaction?

Complete a maturity assessment to create a baseline and areas of focus

The Service Desk Maturity Assessment tool helps organizations assess their service desk process maturity and focus the project on the activities that matter most.

The tool will help guide improvement efforts and measure your progress.

  • The second tab of the tool walks through a qualitative assessment of your service desk practices. Questions will prompt you to evaluate how you are executing key activities. Select the answer in the drop-down menus that most closely aligns with your current state.
  • The third tab displays your rate of process completeness and maturity. You will receive a score for each phase, an overall score, and advice based on your performance.
  • Document the results of the efficiency assessment in the Service Desk Improvement Initiative.
  • The tool is intended for periodic use. Review your answers each year and devise initiatives to improve the process performance where you need it most.
Sample of the Service Desk Maturity Assessment.

Define your vision for the support structure

Use this vision for communicating with the business and your IT team

Consider service improvements and how those changes can be perceived by the organization. For example, offering multiple platforms, such as adding Macs to end-user devices, could translate to “Providing the right IT solutions for the way our employees want to work.”

To support new platforms, you might need to look at the following steps to get there:
  • Evaluate skills needed – can you upskill generalists quickly, or will specialists be required? Determine training needs for support staff on new platforms.
  • Estimate uptake of the new platform and adjusting budgets – will these mostly be role-based decisions?
  • Determine what applications will work on the new platform and which will have a parity offering, which will require a solution like Parallels or VirtualBox, and which might need substitute applications.
  • What utilities will be needed to secure your solutions such as for encryption, antivirus, and firewalls?
  • What changes in the way you deploy and patch machines?
  • What level of support do you need to provide – just platform, or applications as well? What self-serve training can be made available?
If you need to change the way you deploy equipment, you may want to review the blueprint Simplify Remote Deployment With Zero-Touch Provisioning

Info-Tech Insight

Identify some high-level opportunities and plan out how these changes will impact the way you provide support today. Document steps you’ll need to follow to make it happen. This may include new offerings and product sourcing, training, and research.

Facilitate service desk operations with an ITSM tool

You don’t need to spend a fortune. Many solutions are free or low-cost for a small number of users, and you don’t necessarily have to give up functionality to save money.

Encourage users to submit requests through email or self-serve to keep organized. Ensure that reporting will provide you with the basics without effort, but ensure report creation is easy enough if you need to add more.

Consider tools that do more than just store tickets. ITSM tools for small enterprises can also assist with:
  • Equipment and software license management
  • Self-serve for password reset and improving the experience for end users to submit tickets
  • Software deployment
  • Onboarding and offboarding workflows
  • Integration with monitoring tools
Info-Tech Insight Buying rather than building allows you the greatest flexibility and can provide enterprise-level functionality at small-enterprise pricing. Use Info-Tech’s IT Service Management Selection Guide to create a business case and list of requirements for your ITSM purchase.
Logo for Spiceworks.
Logo for ZenDesk. Logo for SysAid.
Logo for ManageEngine.
Logo for Vector Networks.
Logo for Freshworks.
Logo for Squadcast.
Logo for Jira Software.
Logos contain links

ITSM implementations are the perfect time to fix processes

Consider engaging a partner for the installation and setup as they will have the expertise to troubleshoot and get you to value quickly.

Even with a partner, don’t rely on them to set up categories, prioritizations, and workflows. If you have unique requirements, you will need to bring your design work to the table to avoid getting a “standard install” that will need to be modified later.

When we look at what makes a strong and happy product launch, it boils down to a few key elements:
  • Improving customer service, or at least avoiding a decline
  • Improving access to information for technical team and end users
  • Successfully taking advantage of workflows, templates, and other features designed to improve the technician and user experience
  • Using existing processes with the new tools, without having to completely reengineer how things are done
For a complete installation guide, visit the blueprint Build an ITSM Implementation Plan
To prepare for a quick time to value in setting up the new ITSM tool, prioritize in this order:
  1. Categorization and status codes
  2. Prioritization
  3. Divide tickets into incidents and service requests
  4. Create workflows for onboarding and offboarding (automate where you can)
  5. Track escalations to vendors
  6. Reporting
  7. Self-serve
  8. Equipment inventory (leading to hardware asset management)

Define roles looking to balance between customer service and getting things done

The team will need to provide backfill for each other with high volume, vacations, and leave, but also need to proactively manage interruptions appropriately as they work on projects.
Icon of a bullseye. First contact – customer service, general knowledge
Answers phones, chats, responds to email, troubleshooting, creates knowledge articles for end users.
Icon of a pie chart. Analyst – experienced troubleshooter, general knowledge
Answers phone when FC isn’t available, responds to email, troubleshooting, creates knowledge articles for first contact, escalates to other technicians or vendors.
Icon of a lightbulb. Analyst – experienced troubleshooter, specialist
Answers phones only when necessary, troubleshooting, creates knowledge articles for anyone in IT, consults with peers, escalates to vendors.
Icon of gear on a folder. Engineer – deep expertise, specialist
Answers phones only when necessary, troubleshooting, creates knowledge articles for anyone in IT, consults with peers, escalates to vendors.
Icon of a handshake. Vendor, Managed Service Providers
Escalation point per contract terms, must meet SLAs, communicate regularly with analysts and management as appropriate. Who escalates and who manages them?
Row of colorful people.

Note roles in the Incident Management and Service Desk – Standard Operating Procedure Template

Keep customers happy and technicians calm by properly managing your queue

If ticket volume is too high or too dispersed to effectively have teams self-select tickets, assign a queue manager to review tickets throughout the day to ensure they’re assigned and on the technician’s schedule. This is particularly important for technicians who don’t regularly work out of the ticketing system. Follow up on approaching or missed SLAs.

  • Separate incidents (break fix) and service requests: Prioritize incidents over service requests to focus on getting users doing business as soon as possible. Schedule service requests for slower times or assign to technicians who are not working the front lines.
  • First in/first out…mostly: We typically look to prioritize incidents over service requests and only prioritize incidents if there are multiple people or VIPs affected. Where everything is equal, deal with the oldest first. Pause occasionally to deal with quick wins such as password resets.
  • Update ticket status and notes: Knowing what tickets are in progress and which ones are waiting on information or parts is important for anyone looking to pick up the next ticket. Make sure everyone is aware of the benefits of keeping this information up to date, so technicians know what to work on next without duplicating each other’s work.
  • Implement solutions quickly by using knowledge articles: Continue to build out the knowledge base to be able to resolve end-user issues quickly, check to see if additional information is needed before escalating tickets to other technicians.
  • Encourage end users to create tickets through the portal: Issues called in are automatically moved to the front of the queue, regardless of urgency. Make it easy for users to report issues using the portal and save the phone for urgent issues to allow appropriate prioritization of tickets.
  • Create a process to add additional resources on a regular basis to keep control of the backlog: A few extra hours once a week may be enough if the team is focused without interruptions.
  • Determine what backlog is acceptable to your users: Set that as a maximum time to resolve. Ideally, set up automated escalations for tickets that are approaching target SLAs, and build flexibility into schedules to have an “all hands on deck” option if the volume gets too high.

Info-Tech Insight

Make sure your queue manager has an accurate escalation list and has the authority to assign tickets and engage with the technical team to manage SLAs; otherwise, SLAs will never be consistently managed.

Best practices for ticket handling

Accurate data leads to good decisions. If working toward adding staff members, reducing recurring incidents, gaining access to better tools, or demonstrating value to the business, tickets will enable reporting and dashboards to manage your day-to-day business and provide reports to stakeholders.
  • Provide an easy way for end users to electronically submit tickets and encourage them to do so. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still accept phone calls, but that should be encouraged for time sensitive issues.
  • Create and update tickets, but not at the expense of good customer service. Agents can start the ticket but shouldn’t spend five minutes creating the ticket when they should be troubleshooting the problem.
  • Update the ticket when the issue is resolved or needs to be escalated. If agents are escalating, they should make sure all relevant information is passed along to the next technician.
  • Update user of ETA if issue cannot be resolved quickly.
  • Update categories to reflect the actual issue and resolution.
  • Reference or link to the knowledge base article as the documented steps taken to resolve the incident.
  • Validate incident is resolved with client. Automate this process with ticket closure after a certain time.
  • Close or resolve the ticket on time.
Ticket templates (or quick tickets) for common incidents can lead to fast creation, data input, and categorizations. Templates can reduce the time it takes to create tickets from two minutes to 30 seconds.
Sample ticket template.

Create a right-sized self-service portal

Review tickets and talk to the team to find out the most frequent requests and the most frequent incidents that could be solved by the end user if there were clear instructions. Check with your user community to see what they would like to see in the portal.

A portal is only as attractive as it is useful. Enabling ticket creation and review is the bare minimum and may not entice users to the portal if email is just as easy to use for ticket creation.

Consider opening the portal to groups other than IT. HR, finance, and others may have information they want to share or forms to fill in or download where an employee portal rather than an IT portal could be helpful. Work with other departments to see if they would find value. Make sure your solution is easy to use when adding content. Low-code options are useful for this.

Portals could be built in the ITSM solution or SharePoint/Teams and should include:

  • Easy ways to create and see status on all tickets
  • Manuals, how-to articles, links to training
  • Answers to common questions, could be a wiki or Q&A for users to help each other as well as IT
  • Could have a chatbot to help people find documents or to create a ticket

Info-Tech Insight

Consider using video capture software to create short how-to videos for common questions. Vendors such as TechSmith Snagit , Vimeo Screen Recorder, Screencast-O-Matic Video Recording, and Movavi Screen Recording may be quick and easy to learn.


49% of employees have trouble finding information at work


Employees can cut time spent looking for information by 35% with quality intranet

(Source: Liferay)

Use customer satisfaction surveys to monitor service levels

Transactional surveys are tied to specific interactions and provide a means of communication to help users communicate satisfaction or dissatisfaction with single interactions.
  • Keep it simple: One question to rate the service with opportunity to add a comment is enough to understand the sentiment and potential issues, and it will be more likely that the user will fill it out.
  • Follow up: Feedback will only be provided if customers think it’s being read and actioned. Set an alert to receive notification of any negative feedback and follow up within one or two business days to show you’re listening.

A simple customer feedback form with smiley face scale.

Relationship surveys can be run annually to obtain feedback on the overall customer experience.

Inform yourself of how well you are doing or where you need improvement in the broad services provided.

Provide a high-level perspective on the relationship between the business and IT.

Help with strategic improvement decisions.

Should be sent over a duration of time and to the entire customer base after they’ve had time to experience all the services provided by the service desk. This can be done on an annual basis.

For example: Info-Tech’s End User Satisfaction Diagnostic. Included in your membership.

Keep categorizations simple

Asset categorization provides reports that are straightforward and useful for IT and that are typically used where the business isn’t demanding complex reports.

Too many options can cause confusion; too few options provide little value. Try to avoid using “miscellaneous” – it’s not useful information. Test your tickets against your new scheme to make sure it works for you. Effective classification schemes are concise, easy to use correctly, and easy to maintain.

Build out the categories with these questions:
  • What kind of asset am I working on? (type)
  • What general asset group am I working on? (category)
  • What particular asset am I working on? (sub-category)

Create resolution codes to further modify the data for deeper reporting. This is typically a separate field, as you could use the same code for many categories. Keep it simple, but make sure it’s descriptive enough to understand the type of work happening in IT.

Create and define simple status fields to quickly review tickets and know what needs to be actioned. Don’t stop the clock for any status changes unless you’re waiting on users. The elapsed time is important to measure from a customer satisfaction perspective.

Info-Tech Insight

Think about how you will use the data to determine which components need to be included in reports. If components won’t be used for reporting, routing, or warranty, reporting down to the component level adds little value.

Example table of categorizations.

Need to make quick progress? Use Info-Tech Research Group’s Service Desk Asset-Based Categories template.

1.1 Build or review your categories

1-3 hours

Input: Existing tickets

Output: Categorization scheme

Materials: Whiteboard/Flip charts, Markers, Sample categorization scheme

Participants: CIO, Service desk manager, Technicians


  • How can you use categories and resolution information to enhance reporting?
  • What level of detail do you need to be able to understand the data and take action? What level of detail is too much?
  • Are current status fields allowing you to accurately assess pending work at a glance?


  1. Start with existing categories and review, identifying duplicates and areas of inconsistency.
  2. Write out proposed resolution codes and status fields and critically assess their value.
  3. Test categories and resolution codes against a few recent tickets.
  4. Record the ticket categorization scheme in the Incident Management and Service Desk – Standard Operating Procedure.

Download the Incident Management and Service Desk – Standard Operating Procedure Template

Separate tickets into service requests and incidents

Tickets should be separated into different ticket types to be able to see briefly what needs to be prioritized. This may seem like a non-issue if you have a small team, but if you ever need to report how quickly you’re solving break-fix issues or whether you’re doing root cause analysis, this will save on future efforts. Separating ticket types may make it easier to route tickets automatically or to a new provider in the future.



Icon of a bullseye.


Incidents will be prioritized based on urgency and impact to the organization. Service requests will be scheduled and only increase in prioritization if there is an issue with the request process (e.g. new hire start).
Icon of a handshake.


Did incidents get resolved according to prioritization rules? REPONSE & RESOLUTION Did service requests get completed on time? SCHEDULING & FULFILMENT
Icon of a lightbulb.


Incidents will typically need triage at the service desk unless something is set up to go directly to a specialist. Service requests don’t need triage and can be routed automatically for approvals and fulfillment.

“For me, the first key question is, is this keeping you from doing business? Is this a service request? Is it actually something that's broken? Well, okay. Now let's have the conversation about what's broken and keeping you from doing business.” (Anonymous CIO)

Determine how service requests will be fulfilled

Process steps for service requests: 'Request, Approve, Schedule, Fulfill, Notify requester, Close ticket'.

  • Identify standard requests, meaning any product approved for use and deployment in the organization.
  • Determine whether this should be published and how. Consider a service catalog with the ability to create tickets right from the request page. If there is an opportunity to automate fulfillment, build that into your workflow and project plans.
  • Create workflows for complicated requests such as onboarding, and build them into a template in the service desk tool. This will allow you to reduce the administrative work to deploy tasks.
  • Who will fulfill requests? There may be a need for more than one technician to be able to fulfill if volume dictates, but it’s important to determine what will be done by each level to quickly assign those tickets for scheduling. Define what will be done by each group of technicians.
  • Determine reasonable SLAs for most service requests. Identify which ones will not meet “normal” SLAs. As you build out a service catalog or automate fulfillment, SLAs can be refined.

Info-Tech Insight

Service requests are not as urgent as incidents and should be scheduled.

Set the SLA based on time to fulfill, plus a buffer to schedule around more urgent service requests.

1.2 Identify service requests and routing needs

2-3 hours

Input: Ticket data, Existing workflow diagrams

Output: Workflow diagrams

Materials: Whiteboard/Flip charts, Markers, Visio

Participants: CIO, Service desk manager, Technicians


  1. Create your list of typical service requests and identify the best person to fulfill, based on complexity, documentation, specialty, access rights.
  2. Review service requests which include multiple people or departments, such as onboarding and offboarding
  3. Draw existing processes.
  4. Discuss challenges and critique existing process.
  5. Document proposed changes and steps that will need to be taken to improve the process.

Download the Incident Management and Service Desk – Standard Operating Procedure Template

Incident management

Critical incidents and normal incidents

Even with a small team, it’s important to define a priority for response and resolution time for SLA and uptime reporting and extracting insights for continual improvement efforts.

  • Mission-critical systems or problems that affect many people should always come first (i.e. Severity Level 1).
  • The bulk of reported problems, however, are often individual problems with desktop PCs (i.e. Severity Level 3 or 4).
  • Some questions to consider when deciding on problem severity include:
    • How is productivity affected?
    • How many users are affected?
    • How many systems are affected?
    • How critical are the affected systems to the organization?
  • Decide how many severity levels the organization needs the service desk to have. Four levels of severity is ideal for most organizations.
Go to incident management for SE

Super-specialization of knowledge is also a common factor in smaller teams and is caused by complex architectures. While helpful, if that knowledge isn’t documented, it can walk out the door with the resource and the rest of the team is left scrambling.

Lessons learned may be gathered for critical incidents but often are not propagated, which impacts the ability to solve recurring incidents.

Over time, repeated incidents can have a negative impact on the customer’s perception that the service desk is a credible and essential service to the business.

Cover image for 'Incident Management for Small Enterprise'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

1.3 Activity: Identify critical systems

1 hour

Input: Ticket data, Business continuity plan

Output: Service desk SOP

Materials: Whiteboard/Flip charts, Markers

Participants: CIO, Service desk manager, Technicians

Discuss and document:

  1. Create a list of the most critical systems, and identify and document the escalation path.
  2. Review inventory of support documents for critical systems and identify any that require runbooks to ensure quick resolution in the event of an outage or major performance issue. Refer to the blueprint Incident Management for Small Enterprise to prioritize and document runbooks as needed.
  3. Review vendor agreements to determine if SLAs are appropriate to support needs. If there is a need for adjustments, determine options for modifying or renegotiating SLAs.

Download the Incident Runbook Prioritization Tool

Prioritization scheme

Keep the priority scheme simple and meaningful, using this framework to communicate and report to stakeholders and set SLAs for response and resolution.
  1. Focus primarily on incidents. Service requests should always be medium urgency, unless there is a valid reason to move one to high level.
  2. Separate major outages from all other tickets as these are a major factor in business impact.
  3. Decide how many levels of severity are appropriate for your organization.
  4. Build a prioritization matrix, breaking down priority levels by impact and urgency.
  5. Build out the definitions of “impact” and “urgency” to complete the prioritization matrix.
  6. Run through examples of each priority level to make sure everyone is on the same page.
A matrix of prioritization with rows as levels of 'IMPACT' and columns as levels of 'URGENCY'. Ratings range from 'Critical' at 'Extensive/Critical' to 'Low' at 'Low Impact/Low'.

Document escalation rules and contacts

Depending on the size of the team, escalations may be mostly to internal technical colleagues or could be primarily to vendors.

  • Ensure the list of escalation rules and contacts is accurate and available, adding expected SLAs for quick reference
  • If tickets are being escalated but shouldn’t be, ensure knowledge articles and training materials are up to date
  • Follow up on all external escalations, ensuring SLAs are respected
  • Publish an escalation path for clients if service is not meeting their needs (for internal and external providers) and automate escalations for tickets breaching SLAs
Escalation rules strung together.
User doesn’t know who will fix the issue but expects to see it done in a reasonable time. If issue cannot be resolved right away, set expectations for resolution time.
  • Document information so next technician doesn’t need to ask the same questions.
  • Escalate to the right technician the first time.
  • Check notes to catch up on the issue.
  • Run tests if necessary.
  • Contact user to troubleshoot and fix.
  • Meet SLAs or update client on new ETA.
  • Provide complete information to vendor.
  • Monitor resolution.
  • Follow up with vendor if delays.
  • Update client as needed.
  • Vendor will provide support according to agreement.
  • Encourage vendor to provide regular updates to IT.
  • Review vendor performance regularly.
  • IT will validate issue is resolved and close ticket.
Validate user is happy with the experience

Define, measure, and report on service level agreements

Improving communications is the most effective way to improve customer service
  1. Set goals for time to respond and time to resolve for different incident levels, communicate to the technical team, and test ability to meet these goals.
  2. Set goals for time to fulfil for most service requests, document exceptions (e.g. onboarding).
  3. Create reports to measure against goals and determine what information will be most effective for reporting to the business.
  4. Management: Communicate expectations to the business leaders and end users.
  5. Management: Set regular cadence to meet with stakeholders to discuss expectations and review relevant metrics.
  6. Management: Determine how metrics will be tracked and reviewed to manage technical partners.
Keep messaging simple
  • Be prepared with detailed reporting if needed, but focus on a few key metrics to inform stakeholders of progress against goals.
  • Use trending to tell a story, especially when presenting success stories.
  • Use appropriate media for each type of message. For example: SLAs can be listed on automated ticket responses or in a banner on the portal.

Determine what communications are most important and who will do them

Icon of a bperson ascending a staircase.


From: Service Desk

Messaging provided by engineer or director, sent to all employees; proactive planning with business unit leaders.

Icon of a bullseye.


From: Service Desk

Use templates to send out concise messaging and updates hourly, with input from technical team working on restoring services to all; director to liaise with business stakeholders.

Icon of a lightbulb.


From: Director

Send announcements no more than monthly about new services and processes.

Icon of a handshake.


From: Director

Monthly reporting to business and IT stakeholders on strategic and project goals, manage escalations.

1.4 Create communications plan

2 hours

Input: Sample past communications

Output: Communications templates

Materials: Whiteboard/flip charts, Markers

Participants: CIO, Service desk manager, Technicians

Determine where templates are needed to ensure quick and consistent communications. Review sample templates and modify to suit your needs:

  1. Proactive, planned changes
  2. Outages and updates
  3. Updates to services, self-serve
  4. Regular stakeholder communications

Download the communications templates

Create reports that are useful and actionable

Reporting serves two purposes:

  1. Accountability to stakeholders
  2. Identification of items that need action

To determine what reports are needed, ask yourself:

  • What are your goals?
  • What story are you trying to tell?
  • What do you need to manage day to day?
  • What do you need to report to get funding?
  • What do you need to report to your stakeholders for service updates?

Determine which metrics will be most useful to suit your strategic and operational goals

STRATEGIC GOAL (stakeholders): Improve customer service evidenced by:


  • Aged backlog
  • Service requests solved within SLA (could also look for quick ones, e.g. tickets solved in one day, % solved within one hour)
  • Volume of incidents and time to solve each type
  • Critical incidents solved in 4 hours
  • Incidents solved same day


  • Percentage of tickets solved at first contact
  • SLAs missed
  • Percentage of services available to request through catalog
  • Percentage of tickets created through portal (speaks to quality of experience)
  • Customer satisfaction survey results – transactional and annual


  • Knowledge articles used by technicians
  • Knowledge articles used by end users
  • Tickets resolved at each technician level (volume)
  • Non-standard requests evaluated and fulfilled by volume & time served
  • Volume of recurring incidents
OPERATIONAL GOALS: Report to director & technicians

What else can you do to improve service?

Review the next few pages to see if you need additional blueprints to help you:
  • Evaluate staffing and training needs to ensure the right number of resources are available and they have the skills they need for your environment.
  • Create self-service for end users to get quick answers and create tickets.
  • Create a knowledge base to ensure backup for technical expertise.
  • Develop customer service skills through training.
  • Perform ticket analysis to better understand your technical environment.

Be agile in your approach to service

It’s easy for small teams to get overwhelmed when covering for vacations, illness, or leave. Determine where priorities may be adjusted during busy or short-staffed times.

  • Have a plan to cross-train technicians and create comprehensive knowledge articles for coverage during vacations and unexpected absences.
  • Know where it makes sense to bring in vendors, such as for managed print services, or to cover for extended absences.
  • Look for opportunities to automate functions or reduce administrative overhead through workflows.
  • Identify any risks and determine how to mitigate, such as managing or changing administrative passwords.
  • Create self-serve to enable ticket creation and self-solve for those users who wish to use it.

Staff the service desk to meet demand

  • With increasing complexity of support and demand on service desks, staff are often left feeling overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with ticket volume, resulting in long resolution times and frustrated end users.
  • However, it’s not as simple as hiring more staff to keep up with ticket volume. IT managers must have the data to support their case for increasing resources or even maintaining their current resources in an environment where many executives are looking to reduce headcount.
  • Without changing resources to match demand, IT managers will need to determine how to maximize the use of their resources to deliver better service.

Cover image for 'Staff the Service Desk to Meet Demand'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

Create and manage a knowledge base

With a small team, it may seem redundant to create a knowledge base, but without key system and process workflows and runbooks, an organization is still at risk of bottlenecks and knowledge failure.

  • Use a knowledge base to document pre-escalation troubleshooting steps, known errors and workarounds, and runbook solutions.
  • Where incidents may have many root causes, document which are the most frequent solutions and where variations are typically used.
  • Start with an inventory of personal documents, compare and consolidate into the knowledge base, and ensure they are accurate and up to date.
  • Assign someone to review articles on a regular basis and flag for editing and archiving as the technical environment changes.
  • Supplement with vendor-provided or purchased content. Two options for purchased content include RightAnswers or Netformx.

Info-Tech Insight

Appeal to a broad audience. Use non-technical language whenever possible to help less technical readers. Identify error messages and use screenshots where it makes sense. Take advantage of social features like voting buttons to increase use.

Optimize the service desk with a shift-left strategy

  • “Shift left” is a strategy which moves appropriate technical work to users through knowledge articles, automation and service catalogs, freeing up time for technicians to work on more complex issues.
  • Many organizations have built a great knowledge base but fail to see the value of it over time as it becomes overburdened with overlapping and out-of-date information. Knowledge capture, updating, and review must be embedded into your processes if you want to keep the knowledge base useful.
  • Similarly, the self-service portal is often deployed out of the box with little input from end users and fails to deliver its intended benefits. The portal needs to be designed from the end user’s point of view with the goal of self-resolution if it will serve its purpose of deflecting tickets.

Cover image for 'Optimize the Service Desk With a Shift-Left Strategy'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

Customer service isn’t just about friendliness

Your team will all need to deal with end users at some point, and that may occur in times of high stress. Ensure the team has the skills they need to actively listen, stay positive, and de-escalate.

Info-Tech’s customer service program is a modular approach to improve skills one area at a time. Delivering good customer service means being effective in these areas:
  • Customer focus – Focus on the customer and use a positive, caring, and helpful attitude.
  • Listening and verbal communication skills – Demonstrate empathy and patience, actively listen, and speak in user-friendly ways to help get your point across.
  • Written communication skills – Use appropriate tone, language, and terms in writing (whether via chat, email, or other).
  • Manage difficult situations – Remain calm and in control when dealing with difficult customers and situations.
  • Go the extra mile – Go beyond simply resolving the request to make each interaction positive and memorable.

Deliver a customer service training program to your IT department

  • There’s a common misconception that customer service skills can’t be taught, so no effort is made to improve those skills.
  • Even when there is a desire to improve customer service, it’s hard for IT teams to make time for training and improvement when they’re too busy trying to keep up with tickets.
  • A talented service desk agent with both great technical and customer service skills doesn’t have to be a rare unicorn, and an agent without innate customer service skills isn’t a lost cause. Relevant and impactful customer service habits, techniques, and skills can be taught through practical, role-based training.
  • IT leaders can make time for this training through targeted, short modules along with continual on-the-job coaching and development.

Cover image for 'Deliver Customer Service Training Program to Your IT Department'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

Improve your ticket analysis

Once you’ve got great data coming into the ticketing system, it’s important to rethink your metrics and determine if there are more insights to be found.

Analyzing ticket data involves:
  • Collecting ticket data and keeping it clean. Based on the metrics you’re analyzing, define ticket expectations and keep the data up to date.
  • Showing the value of the service desk. SLAs are meaningless if they are not met consistently. The prerequisite to implementing proper SLAs is fully understanding the proper workload of the service desk.
  • Understanding – and improving – the user experience. You cannot improve the user experience without meaningful metrics that allow you to understand the user experience. Different user groups will have different needs and different expectations of the level of service. Your metrics should reflect those needs and expectations.

Analyze your service desk ticket data

Properly analyzing ticket data is challenging for the following reasons:
  • Poor ticket hygiene and unclear ticket handling
  • Service desk personnel are not sure where to start with analysis
  • Too many metrics are tracked to parse actionable data from the noise
Ticket data won’t give you a silver bullet, but it can help point you in the right direction.

Cover image for 'Analyze Your Service Desk Ticket Data'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

Start doing problem management

Proactively focusing on root cause analysis will reduce the most disruptive incidents to the organization.

  • A focus on elimination of critical incidents and the more disruptive recurring incidents will reduce future workloads for the team and improve customer satisfaction.
  • This can be challenging when the team is already struggling with workload; however, setting a regular cadence to review tickets, looking for trends, and identifying at least one focus area a month can be a positive outcome for everyone.
  • Focus on the most impactful ticket or service first. The initial goal should be to reduce or eliminate critical and high-impact incidents. Once the high-stress situations are reduced, proactively scheduling the smaller but still time-consuming repeatable incidents can be done.
  • Where you have vendors involved, work with them to determine when root cause analysis must happen and where they’ll need to coordinate with your team or other supporting vendors.

Problem management

Problem management can be challenging because it requires skills and knowledge to go deep into a problem and troubleshoot the root cause of an issue, but it also requires uninterrupted time.
  • Problem management, however, can be taught, and the issue isn’t always hard to spot if you have time to look.
  • Using tried and true methods for walking through an issue step by step will enable the team to improve their investigative and troubleshooting skills.
  • Reduction of one or two major incidents and recurring incidents per month will pay off quickly in reducing reactive ticket volume and improve customer satisfaction.

Cover image for 'Problem Management'.
Click picture for a link to the blueprint

Create your roadmap with high-level requirements

Determine what tasks and projects need to be completed to meet your improvement goals. Create a high-level project plan and balance with existing resources.

Roadmap of high-level requirements with 'Goals' as row headers and their timelines mapped out across fiscal quarters.


Taylor, Sharon and Ivor Macfarlane. ITIL Small Scale Implementation. Office of Government Commerce, 2005.

“Share, Collaborate, and Communicate on One Consistent Platform.” Liferay, n.d. Accessed 19 July 2022.

Rodela, Jimmy. “A Beginner’s Guide to Customer Self-Service.” The Ascent, 18 May 2022. Web.

About Info-Tech

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Guided Implementation 1: Current state and vision
  • Call 1: Discuss current state and create a vision.
  • Call 2: Document roles and responsibilities.

Guided Implementation 2: Best practices
  • Call 1: Review and define best practices for ticket handling.

Guided Implementation 3: Service requests and incidents
  • Call 1: Review categorization.
  • Call 2: Discuss service requests and self-serve.
  • Call 3: Assess incident management processes.

Guided Implementation 4: Communication
  • Call 1: Assess and document reporting and metrics.
  • Call 2: Discuss communications methods.

Guided Implementation 5: Next steps & roadmap
  • Call 1: Review next steps.
  • Call 2: Build roadmap for updates.


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